Veteran New York graffiti writer Lee Quinones leads artists (not including Blu) in painting mural on Geffen

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The north wall of MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, the site of an antiwar mural by the Italian artist Blu that the museum had quickly and controversially whitewashed late last year, is getting a new look.

New York graffiti legend Lee Quinones has organized a team of street artists to do a new mural on the exterior wall facing Temple Street. Scaffolding is up now, with a couple of images in progress, and work is expected to be completed next week, before the April 17 opening of the “Art in the Streets” exhibition at the Geffen.

“I could have done this wall on my own, and I haven’t really collaborated with other artists like this before,” Quinones said, reached on site Thursday afternoon with cans of spray paint near his feet and paint flecks covering his clothes and face. “But for me to do it alone might have been a diss to Blu.’

‘So I’ve put together a contingent of cats that is very talented and diverse. And we’re willing to have a conversation with the public about the wall’s history.”


Quinones says Blu declined his invitation to participate as the ‘core’ artist in making the new mural. The artists who are participating include Cern One and Futura 2000 of New York; Sano, Risk and Push from L.A.; and Loomit from Munich, Germany. (Quinones says Swoon might also participate, but only after finishing her artwork inside the museum.)

Quinones compared his role on the project to creative director, explaining that he came up with the initial idea of a mural about “the founding of America and the founding of our movement,’ referring to what is popularly known as ‘street art.’ Famous for his own work on the New York subway system in the 1970s, he also supplied some overarching images like trains or tracks. He then invited each artist to bring their own ideas and imagery to the table, as Cern is by painting a portrait of a woman in a Native American headdress and Sano is by contributing a historical image of a locomotive (above). Last year MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch was sharply criticized by some street artists for removing Blu’s mural, which Deitch had commissioned but later deemed inappropriate for a location facing the Japanese American veterans memorial, Go For Broke, in Little Tokyo. Many wondered why the museum director hadn’t seen a proposal or plans for the artwork in advance.

In this case, Quinones appears to be working closely with Deitch and sharing ideas with him. (Deitch declined to comment.) “I’m responding to the leap of faith that Jeffrey has taken, his passion and his perseverance in unleashing our movement,” says Quinones.

“I think the issue with Blu before was taken way out of context,’ the artist added. ‘I don’t think it was censorship for the reason that you can create an amazing film and some of the best scenes end up on the editing room floor.”

Asked if he was worried that other street artists might wish to ‘edit’ or otherwise alter his team’s work at the Geffen, Quinones replied, rather gnomically, as if speaking to the would-be taggers: “What you write is what you are. Respect the movement that moves with you and for you.”


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MOCA commissions--then paints over--Blu’s mural

--Jori Finkel